Thursday, April 30, 2009

A tough time to trust.

Why does the gnashing of teeth and bleeding eye reviews of game tape from the first round loss of San Jose seem so familiar? For Senator Fans the questions being asked in San Jose seem too familiar. A team with great talent which had a wonderful regular season falls so desperately short in the post season.

The team’s big super star centre is at the centre of all the talk about what is wrong with this team. Joe Thornton is currently trying on the goat horns owned for the past year by Jason Spezza. Right or wrong when you earn North of 7 million and are the #1 centre on an underachieving team, they just fit you for the horns at the start of the season and wait for a good time to give them to you. Hardly seems fair in a team sport, but that’s the way the fans and media look at it, so fair or not that’s the way it goes.

The big difference between the two teams is the fact that Ottawa got to the final with all this talent while the Sharks still could not find their way out of the first round and they haven’t gotten past the 2nd round in the 3 previous seasons. That makes the Shark tank more acidic than the Nation’s Capital.

All the same discussions about breaking up the core of the team are now taking place in Northern California. But how do you rid yourself of Thornton, Marleau, Cheechoo or even Nabokov? There would certainly be teams interested but absorbing those big salaries is tough with the cap destined to go down over the next 3 seasons. All this is predicated on the assumption that the big dollar guys would be willing to waive their no-trade clauses. There will be changes, but don’t expect Doug Wilson to tear down this house. It would be nearly impossible to do even if he wanted to.

No this is the time to trust your earlier decisions despite the fact it’s the toughest time to have trust. You loved this team when you signed all these guys. You loved this team when they won the President’s Trophy. You loved them when the first round of the playoffs started. Now 7 games later some want it ripped apart? It might be the right thing to do or it might be the worst thing to do.

Here in Ottawa before Corey Clouston took over as coach, the talk shows were filled with people who were absolutely positive the only fix was to trade Spezza, Heatly, Alfredsson, Phillips…etc etc. By the end of the season people were talking about this team being 2 players away from being a contender again.

The Sharks will change before next season and one of the big guns may actually be moved, but not a full scale rebuild. But one individual may have been badly damaged by the first round exit. That is Jumbo Joe and the assumption he is about to become thee dominant centre in the NHL at long last. His stock has now plummeted so quickly there is talk he will not only not captain Team Canada in the Olympics, but he might not even make the team. The biggest Shark may have lost his teeth in 7 simple playoff games.

See you at the rink.


Gordon of Riverworld said...

Trade Spezza for Thornton.

Anonymous said...

Like you stated, Ottawa has made the Finals, while the Sharks haven't, that is a very big difference between the two teams.

I don't think that the Sens are hampered by a psychological mountain that they have to climb. Rather, I think that the Sens have been mismanaged. Too much tinkering with systems and players, and not enough patience in letting players be themselves and play to their strengths.

As for the Sharks, I can't help but think of the lessons of 15 years ago. Back then, Detroit was led by a superstar, Stevie Y. For many years, Detroit finished near or at the top of the NHL standings, but consistently choked come playoff time. The worst being the 1993 first round exit to the Leafs.

They even brought in a legendary coach in Bowman. In 1995, they had finally made it to the Finals and were heavily favoured to beat the Devils. They were swept.

Stevie Y was branded as a good player, but a choker. Many pundits were convinced that you couldn't win with Stevie Y as the focal point.

In 1997 they finally won. Since then, they have won three more times and are now regarded as an organization with a winning culture. Stevie Y is now regarded as the consummate leader and winner.

To me, the lesson is that winning is a process. If you have the talent, sometimes you just have to let the players work through it. They'll get there. I understand that a fickle fan base can make this difficult. But, this is where a strong management team is essential.

Stevie Y won 14 years into his career. Joe is only 12 years in. Spezza is only 6 years in.

Joe will win someday.

San Jose is where Detroit was 15 years ago. San Jose has the talent. Their issues are psychological. If I'm Doug Wilson, I would let the core guys work through the issues. They have enough free agents that the roster will naturally have a new look next year. Blowing it up would be a mistake.

If they stick with it, they may be on the verge of creating organizational DNA that is necessary to sustain winning over the long-term.

That is what has happened in Detroit. That organization is about more than the players. They have an organizational memory of lessons learned that they can draw on. They faced adversity and worked through it as a group.

Anonymous said...

Dean, you are absolutely dreaming if you think the San Jose sharks have even 1/4 of the choking reputation of the Ottawa Senators. The Ottawa Senators have been doing this for years. The Sharks are not even in the same ballpark in this regard. In fact, let's look at the last ten years and let's handicap the Sharks by only looking at the Senator playoff performances vs. the lowly Leafs. How many times did a brilliant regular season by Ottawa get upset in the playoffs by the Leafs? 4 times? That's more than the San Jose against all opponents.

I like your strategy though: Deflect attention from the "true" poster boys of post season flameouts (ie: The Senators) by talking about the Sharks. Unfortunately, that's like Bernie Madoff pointing to Joe-six pack who cheated on his taxes and saying, "See, I'm not the only greedy guy, he did it too." Sheesh.

furcifer said...

Getting to the final means nothing. When the Sharks lose 4 playoff rounds to the same team then they will reach the epic level of fail the Sens did.